In my last post I wrote about having my “aha moment” with cruising. I think in large part my enjoyment of this trip came from our careful selection of a small cruise line. While I can’t speak much to the contrasts of one fleet of small ship cruise line to another, we were mostly concerned with the difference between Big Ships (Carnival, Royal Caribbean, etc) and Small Ships (Silversea, Seabourne, Windstar, etc). We went with Silversea, and while I don’t have any other cruise experience to compare it to, we loved it. Here’s why we chose to go small or go home:

Silversea Siver Spirit

1. Size Does Matter

Well, duh. Our ship, the Silversea Spirit, holds about 500 passengers. The Big Ships tend to hold 2-3,000. Granted I lived in New York City for four years so I’m no hermit but when I vacation the last thing I want to do is be competing with crowds. 500 people still sounds like a lot, yet many of the crew knew us by name and even the Cruise Director recognized and spoke with us. Best of all? We never had to fight for a pool chair.

Silversea Pool Deck

2. More to Explore

The length of port times were the most important factor to me. I couldn’t believe when I was reading the Cruise Critic message boards and realized some cruise ships are in port for only a few hours. We were in Santorini and Kusadasi for fifteen hours each! And being there from 8am-11pm meant we could experience dinner, sunsets and even some nightlife. This didn’t really apply to us, but in the Caribbean and on other routes small ships also have the advantage of being able to go to ports that the Big Ships can’t reach.

Silversea Silver Spirit

3. No Kids Allowed

It’s not that I hate children, (I swear, parents-of-kids-I-used-to-babysit!) it’s that I don’t like herds of them. Silversea allows children, of course, but they don’t have a dedicated Kid’s Program, which kept the numbers low and meant I wasn’t battling five year old’s for deck space.

Relaxing on Deck

4. Boozing it Up

And here’s the biggest selling point I would guess for most people about the Small Ships: they are all inclusive, meaning booze and tipping is totally included. (Die hard tippers at heart, we ended up using some of our onboard credit to buy snacks and gifts for the maid and butler). Even though we aren’t my mom isn’t much of a drinker, its still nice not to have to take out your wallet every time you want a strawberry daiquiri. Did I mention that there is 24 hour room service and you can have full size bottles of Absolute vodka delivered to your suite?

Silversea Silver Spirit Balcony

5. Sweet Suites

Silversea (and many other comparable lines) have all suite ships. Meaning we didn’t have to upgrade in order to have a balcony, a huge bathroom, and a living room. Our room was 375 square feet! That’s bigger than some NYC apartments.

Silver Spirite Suite

Silversuite Silver Spirit Suite

6. Fancy Food

One cruise ship stereotype is that they have nothing but big buffets filled with mediocre food. We are FAR from foodies, but even we could tell the seven restaurants on the Silver Spirit were nothing short of amazing. When we were feeling casual, we would grab a burger by the pool. When we wanted fancy, we made reservations at one of the gourmet restaurants on board. My absolute favorite was Hot Rocks, a do-it-yourself stone grill restaurant. And we appreciated that the portions were small so you could eat all the courses and sample many dishes, and that we could choose to sit by ourselves or with friends. (Some large cruise lines assign you to a group table).

Silversea Hot Rocks Grill

7. Special Moments

As I wrote about here, Silversea includes a complimentary special experience on each cruise. For us, it was a classical concert in the shadow of one of the world’s great ancient cities. For others, its a clambake on a private Caribbean island. These things make a huge difference.



Unfortunately, (well, fortunately for me ’cause I this trip was my graduation gift from mama!) small cruise lines is synonymous with luxury cruise lines. While we overall loved our experience, there are some downsides:

1. High Cost

Silversea is about 3-4x the cost of a Carnival cruise along the same route. Even for the heaviest of boozers and tippers, it would be hard to justify that you are going to make the expenses even up. You are definitely paying for luxury.

2. High Cost of Extras

While we were surprised to find a free laundry service, free in room movies and tons of other little perks, we were totally blown away by the cost of internet. It was exorbitant, and for computer junkies like us, a necessary evil. The spa was also super pricey, and we probably would not have visited if not for the onboard credit we had to use up (what a burden).

3. High Expectations

When you are paying so dearly for a luxury vacation, you understandably have pretty high expectations. So when it takes 15 minutes to get an iced tea, or your cruise line abandons you during a major taxi strike, you feel a bit miffed. Those same incidents might sting a little less had you gone for the budget option.

4. High… Boredom (For some people)

Big Ships are upping the ante every year with indoor ice skating rinks, huge cast entertainment productions and a enormous casinos. Silversea kept it simple with a spa, a gym with complimentary fitness classes, a nightly lecture or performance, and a healthy schedule of shuffleboard and such. For us, this was perfect after jam-packed port days. For some, it might be… boring. (Though I stand by the expression “Only boring people get bored!”)

• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •

I realize that a luxury cruise is out of reach for many people (myself very much included!) And I’m sure there are others (families, those that want indoor rock climbing walls on their ships) have no interest at all in a smaller line. But I also think there are probably plenty of folks out there with enough cash who shy away because they have the same misconception I did with lumping all cruising together. So whether you’re looking for the splurge of a lifetime or thinking about dipping your toe in cruising for the first time, I highly recommend checking out a small, luxury line. You won’t regret it! And if you want to bring me along, I can totally check my calendar. (Looking at you, Dad).

Too see the rest of our photos at sea, check out my Flickr album here.

  • 1) Your room is GORGEOUS!
    2) I love your pink hate and bikini, LOVE!!!
    3) I’m so excited about my cruise now.

    • Alex
      September 29 2011

      Yay! I’m excited for your cruise too 🙂 I love that hat and I never feel like I get the opportunity to wear it. But if you can’t wear a big flouncy hat on a luxury cruise through the Greek Isles, WHERE CAN YOU?!

  • Cat
    September 28 2011

    Aww I’m sad your cruise is over (guess it’s been over for a while actually) but it was fun following along. I have a ton of detailed blog posts lined up about my last cruise but I still haven’t gotten around to working on them and you’re really inspiring me to get it done! I have so many comments I could make but I’ll attempt to keep the brief(ish).

    1- You’re right it can be crowded on the large ships but my very introverted husband has always been successful in finding quiet secluded nooks to hang out and read a book.
    2- Love your long port times. I think Cruise Critic is a great way to learn more info about cruises BUT, as with life, you must take what people say with a grain of salt and sometimes many grains are needed!
    3- The kids programs on large ships actually do a decent job of containing children but I’ve also never cruised during the summer when most of them would be on board.
    4- That’s a really nice truly all inclusive deal!
    5- So jealous of that suite! I’ve only been in tiny 140 sqft inside cabins since they’re cheap!
    6- Food is definitely one of my favorite aspects of a cruise. Yum! Group tables aren’t always bad, I have friends on facebook I keep in touch with because of that setup.
    7- That’s definitely a really nice touch you won’t find on non-luxury cruises.

    I love the idea of one day going on a luxury cruise but not sure I can ever justify the cost. I have found on non-luxury lines that the longer (7+ night) cruises are very different from the clientele of the shorter (3-4 night) cruises which have a lot more of what scares people about cruises I think.

    I’m still laughing at your boring/bored people quote, it’s a good one! Looks like I failed at keeping brief, sorry. But, I really like cruising and learning more about it so I especially loved your series.

    • Alex
      September 29 2011

      I can’t wait to read about your cruise! Be sure to tweet me when you get around to posting them so I can read. Now to comment on your comments 🙂

      2- Love what you said about Cruise Critic (ha!). I found some posters to be very…. interesting. But its also a great source of info.
      3- I never thought about the fact that more kids would be there in the summer. Crazy!
      5- We have nothing to compare it to…. but like I said, bigger than many NYC apartments!!! We spent most of our time on the balcony.
      6- We ate in groups many times, but we were able to choose. I liked being able to be a hermit if possible

      I’m thinking my next cruise will likely be the Caribbean for my dad’s 70th, and with the amount of people I doubt we’ll be doing a small luxury line (if we do it will be something on the lower end like Windstar). I’m thinking maybe NCL?

  • Kris Koeller
    September 28 2011

    Definitely looks like money well spent!

    • Alex
      September 29 2011

      The most well spent money is someone else’s ;-P

  • Jen
    September 28 2011

    I’d love to try Silversea someday! Unfortunately, the high cost is the one thing holding me back right now. I’m sure the experience is priceless though.

    I’m so glad you enjoyed your cruise, and this is a great recap of a small ship cruise.

    • Alex
      September 29 2011

      Believe me, I’m glad this was an experience I had now because it is NOT my normal travel style! For my mom it was a trip of a lifetime she’s been saving for, so if you feel the same way just keep checking for promotions! Due to the economy we were able to get great perks like $500 of onboard credit each!

  • Blade
    September 29 2011

    Great Article, I never been on cruise but will love to go on one hopefully soon. Glad you enjoyed yourself Alex

    • Alex
      September 29 2011

      Thanks for the comment blade! Hope you keep reading!

  • Gemma Twoscotsabroad
    November 8 2014

    I always thought I’d feel claustrophobic on a cruise, yet to try a boat for more than two days mind you. However those trips (The Whitsundays in Oz especially) were ex-sail-ent (gettit?)

    • Alex
      November 13 2014

      I get it indeed… AND I LOVE PUNS! (Is that a pun? Whatever, it’s fun with words!)

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